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Live From Philadelphia

R.J. Johnson reports on the month's best live shows from the City of Brotherly Love


Jazz Appreciation Month 2014 in Philadelphia: A Recap

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This April was a month of truly spectacular music on all fronts in jny: Philadelphia. I know I missed a whole lot (see Philadelphia Jazz Project and Ars Nova Workshop) but here's my take. I kicked off the month with my trio Mischa Machez at our monthly First Friday Happy Hour at the Dog and Bull, always a well-attended event, with keyboardist David Dzubinski and drummer Phil Horwitz. That night was also the opening of this year's performance of “Last Call at the Downbeat," a play that first ran as part if PIFA in 2013, written by Executive ...

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March 2013: Billy Hart Quartet

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Billy Hart QuartetPhiladelphia Art AlliancePhiladelphia, PAMarch 20, 2013The music of the Billy Hart Quartet demonstrates a thorough amalgamation of intriguingly disparate musical elements which retains both the mastery of a group of accomplished veterans and the perpetually transformative nature of a leader dedicated to a lifetime of artistic pursuits. The ensemble, consisting of drummer Hart, bassist Ben Street, pianist Ethan Iverson and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, has been Hart's working band since 2003.The selections on this night came from the band's most recent release, All Our Reasons (ECM, 2012). Within ...

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February 2013: Chris Potter Quartet

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Chris Potter QuartetChris' Jazz CaféPhiladelphia, PAFebruary 22, 2013Although no longer considered the essential destination for working jazz groups that it once was, Philadelphia is still visited by high-level talent from New York that occasionally ventures south to perform in the city's one consistent jazz venue. Despite the current lack of mainstream interest in jazz, in Philadelphia or elsewhere, the Chris Potter Quartet performed two sets for a crowd which filled every seat, barstool, and available standing room well before show time.Potter is known for offering a constantly evolving range of ...

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January 2013: Larry McKenna Quartet

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Larry McKenna QuartetJanuary 17, 2012Arch Street Meeting HousePhiladelphia, PAThe Philadelphia jazz scene is well known for its reverence of jazz tradition. Compared to the constantly shifting modern scene of New York City, and the experimental projects produced by the current European scene, Philadelphia musicians are often seen as living examples of the preservation of jazz tradition. No one embodies this principal more meticulously than saxophonist Larry McKenna.McKenna is perhaps the most quintessential of Philadelphia's native jazz musicians, has worked with several jazz legends throughout his lengthy career as both a ...

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November 2012: Three Blind Mice

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Three Blind MiceNovember 29, 2012TimePhiladelphia, PAAlthough the classic organ trio format has been popular within the jazz tradition since the hard-bop era, it has not always been known for creating adventurous new material. Organ trios are instead known for their soulful grooves, straight-ahead readings of jazz standards, and an intent focus on the blues. Three Blind Mice, a Philadelphia-based trio consisting of organist Lucas Brown, drummer Wayne Smith Jr., and tenor saxophonist Victor North, has developed a lengthy book of original tunes and a style geared towards preserving jazz tradition with an ...

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October 2012: Fresh Cut from the Vine, Re: Trio

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Philly Jazz: Fresh Cut From the VinePainted Bride Art CenterPhiladelphia, PAOctober 20, 2012Philadelphia is a city filled with abundant talent and artistic potential, especially when it comes to the city's vibrant music scene. However, Philadelphia-based musicians often find themselves faced with a lack of opportunities to showcase their original works.The Painted Bride has been presenting jazz through its Jazz on Vine series for over 20 continuous years. Though not a regular jazz venue, the Bride has always been known for its eclectic programs and open-minded approach to presenting modern artists ...

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September 2012: Exuberance

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ExuberanceChris' Jazz CaféPhiladelphia, PASeptember 12, 2012Amongst the diverse array of working jazz groups encompassing the Philadelphia jazz scene, Exuberance--a band which performs a book of entirely original music--has emerged as a popular interest amongst musicians and non-musicians alike. By combining thoughtful writing with an intricate yet engaging style of jazz improvisation, the group has managed to create music which remains unambiguous while retaining a natural intellectual curiosity.The sound of the group accurately reflects the diverse backgrounds of the individual musicians. While their own musical experiences may be vastly dissimilar, it ...

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August 2012: Brian Betz Quartet, Featuring Denis DiBlasio

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Brian Betz QuartetChris' Jazz CaféPhiladelphia, PAAugust 31, 2012Guitarist Brian Betz led his quartet through a set of standards at Chris' Jazz Café in Philadelphia. In a set comprised entirely of standards, the band used its divergent musical personalities to uncover new ground within a familiar framework.The set began with a fiery rundown of “Secret Love," a piece favored by jazz pioneers such as saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Baritone saxophonist Denis DiBlasio set the mood for the entire band by showcasing his ability to play long eighth note-based lines over several bars. ...

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July 2012: Mike Cemprola Quintet

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Mike Cemprola QuintetJose Pistola'sPhiladelphia, PAJuly 30, 2012For his debut as a leader, alto saxophonist Mike Cemprola led a quintet comprised of some of Philadelphia's most in-demand musicians and up-and-coming sidemen for his show at Jose Pistola's on July 30.The band's unique lineup allowed each tune to shift in several different directions, showcasing an aesthetic marked by improvisational individuality and empathetic interplay. Favoring a set of jazz standards, the group seemed determined to find new paths through old material, rather than simply trading solos.The rhythm section featured bassist Sandy ...

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June 2012: Gunshow

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GunshowChris' Jazz CaféPhiladelphia, PAJune 20, 2012Gunshow, a band which has been performing somewhat regularly in the Philadelphia area for a few years, with a repertoire comprised largely of original compositions, performed two sets at Chris' Jazz Café in Center City, Philadelphia.The band's draw in the Philadelphia area can be attributed to the fact that each of its members is a busy sideman within the city's jazz community. The quartet consists of guitarist Tim Wendel, alto saxophonist Mike Cemprola, bassist Leon Boykins, and drummer Matt Scarano. Boykins and Scarano have also ...

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May 2012: Tony Miceli / Craig Ebner Quartet

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Tony Miceli/Craig Ebner QuartetChris' Jazz CaféPhiladelphia, PAMay 25, 2012Philadelphia-based vibraphonist Tony Miceli and guitarist Craig Ebner led their quartet through two sets dedicated to the music of the Red Norvo Trio.Norvo's renowned trio included guitarist Tal Farlow and bassist Charles Mingus--both relative unknowns during their time in the vibraphonist's group from 1949 to 1953, but eventually becoming immensely influential figures on their own instruments. With a repertoire comprised mainly of standards, Norvo's material lends itself well to new interpretation and creative change.Miceli and Ebner's quartet began with a ...

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March-April 2012: Dan Hanrahan, Matthew Shipp, Danilo Perez, Aerial Photograph

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Dan Hanrahan TrioMoonstone Arts CenterFebruary 22, 2012The Moonstone Arts Center, one of Philadelphia's more successful outlets for jazz music, has been growing in popularity amongst local musicians as a venue geared towards supporting original music. Dan Hanrahan, a guitarist well versed in jazz tradition, led his organ trio through a set of arranged standards and original compositions.The set began with the standard “I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," arranged with an updated bebop-influenced melody and syncopated rhythmic hits. Organist Dave Mattock displayed his technical command of the organ by walking bass lines and ...

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February 2012: Terell Stafford Quintet: The Music of Lee Morgan

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Terell Stafford QuintetPerelman Theater, The Kimmel CenterFebruary 25, 2012 Philadelphia native, trumpeter Terell Stafford led his quintet through two sets of original arrangements dedicated to legendary trumpeter Lee Morgan in the Perelman Theater, located inside Philadelphia's Kimmel Center. The performance was part of the Kimmel Center's 2011-2012 “Jazz Up Close" Series, which has been designed to expose new audiences to accomplished jazz artists native to Philadelphia.The series has also included tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, and will continue with a performance from pianist Danilo Pérez. On this evening, Stafford's performance was preceded ...

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January 2012: Craig Ebner, Ravi Coltrane, Lucas Brown and Norman David

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Craig Ebner QuartetMoonstone Arts CenterJanuary 13, 2012Craig Ebner, a Philadelphia based guitarist best known for his work with organist Joey DeFrancesco, led his quartet through a brief yet powerful set at the Moonstone Arts Center in Center City Philadelphia. Now in its third year, the Moonstone Arts Center operates out of Robin's Bookstore in Center City and hosts jazz shows one or two nights per month. Many of the city's best musicians, including saxophonist Bobby Zankel, pianist Tom Lawton, and vibraphonist Behn Gillece have performed at Moonstone in the past.Ebner's playing was ...



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